In the Game Time paper tonight (email subscriptions still available), I compared the Ken Hitchcock hiring with that of one Mike Keenan as Blues head coach. Add another similarity to the list; they're the last two St. Louis coaches to win their debut game behind the bench. The Blues played a spirited game and beat the Blackhawks 3-0. Captain David Backes gave the new boss the game puck in the dressing room. I can feel the love through the television.
Lots of good stuff happened tonight. I'll get to the bullet points in a second, but we have to talk about two things first. Hitchcock promised to fix the power play after one practice. And sure as hell, on the Blues' first man advantage Chris Stewart deflected a shot for his first goal since the third game of the season. Shocking.
The other huge development: Jaroslav Halak got his head in the game and snapped a five-game personal losing streak. While he had a few shaky moments where he still turned to look over his shoulder to see if the puck was in the net, he seemed to play with more confidence. He didn't have nearly as many desperation attempts or flails across the crease.
All around, it kind of felt like the first night of the season. The penalty kill was perfect, the power play connected, Halak played like a No. 1 against the team at the top of the division standings. They played a physical and fast game. The defensemen were involved in the offense. It really was a great performance. Davis Payne probably broke his television after the second period.
- Vladimir Sobotka was all over the place. He scored a goal by going hard to the net with the puck. He played a physical game. He was one of many players who skated hard. In the postgame, Hitchcock told Bernie Federko that this seemed like a playoff game with the intensity and style of play. Sobotka responded to pace and played well. It would be great if he actually got to see some playoff action this year.
- On the penalty kill, Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart saw multiple shifts a man down. Even after tonight, Stewart is averaging just 13 seconds a game playing shorthanded and Berglund 56 seconds. It's nice to see some athletic, offensive threats out there on the penalty kill.
- With Brett Hull in the house for the Pavol Demitra/Igor Korolev tribute (which was very nice), T.J. Oshie scored a goal No. 16 would have been proud of. Coming down left with with one defender in his way, Oshie leaned into a shot that kind of fluttered and dipped under Corey Crawford's arm. Hull has said that Oshie is the player on the Blues that he likes to watch and has part of Hull's game. While the Golden Brett probably would have ripped the twine in the back, there was something a touch reminiscent about the goal.
- Federko is growing a mustache, presumably for the Movember stuff going on this month to raise awareness for men's cancer. The Hall of Famer sported a great hockey stache back in his playing days. His upper lip has looked naked for years. Glad he's growing it back at least for the month.